Planning culture or planning culturally?

By Greg Baeker

I’ve previously reviewedCultural Mapping: A Guide to Understanding Place, Community and Continuity, describing it as an outstanding addition to the field of cultural mapping (I was honored to contribute the Preface to the publication).

As in my own practice, cultural mapping is described as a foundation for cultural planning, which the book defines as “a sensitive and sustainable perspective on urban planning that responds to the culturally distinctive assets and resources of a locality as well as to local needs, aspirations and perceptions of place.” It makes the valuable point that for many decades cultural planning was understood as planning for the future of cultural organizations and activities. One way of characterizing this perspective is planning culture. Today cultural planning is about bringing a cultural lens to urban planning and economic development or what might be termed planning culturally.

Promoting this broader vision of cultural planning and development has been a priority for the Government of Ontario for several years. Supported by a Provincial funding program, more than 50 municipalities in Ontario have developed cultural plans over the past four years.  In 2011 I was commissioned by Municipal Cultural Planning Inc. (MCPI) and the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport to prepare Municipal Cultural Planning: A Toolkit for Ontario Municipalities. The Toolkit defines municipal cultural planning as:

A municipal government-led process approved by Council, for identifying and leveraging a community’s cultural resources, strengthening the management of those resources, and integrating those cultural resources across all facets of local government planning and decision-making. Municipal cultural planning is part of an integrated, place-based approach to planning and development that takes into account four pillars of sustainability: economic prosperity, social equity, environmental responsibility and cultural vitality.

The phrase “strengthening the management of those resources” signals that cultural planning includes planning for the future of cultural groups and activities but also that it is understood in the larger context communicated by planning culturally. Have you seen this shift happening in your community?